A Day with Big Daddy

Posted at 5:35 pm February 11, 2008 by Yvette Kemp

I guess I really hadn’t thought about it until one day, as I was sitting outside feeding Big Daddy, a keeper came up to me and said, “So that’s Big Daddy!”

We talk about Big Daddy at the animal hospital at the San Diego Zoo all the time. You hear the radio calls, “bring Big Daddy to the treatment room,” “I’m outside with Big Daddy,” “Can you bring more kingworms for Big Daddy?” “Is there a mister for Big Daddy?” and on and on. You may be wondering at this point: who is this Big Daddy and why is he getting all this attention at the hospital?

 Parson's chameleonWell, Big Daddy is a very charismatic and rare Parson’s chameleon who has been having some foot problems. And he is just a great guy to have around. We cater to his every need with daily foot soaks, watering, and hand feeding of crickets and kingworms; and not just any crickets and kingworms, these are meal-fed bugs! He has his own room that is kept at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and 85 percent humidity. There are misters, plants, vines, and a special lamp for a sunning area in his pen that is set up in this specially prepared room. Then on warm days his pen can be rolled outside so he can get some natural sun. Not too shabby for a long-term hospital resident. Most of us caring for him are envious of his medical coverage!

Big Daddy has a lot of personality so it isn’t a bad deal when it’s your turn to care for him. He loves sitting on a lap or arm as you rest in the sun; his head goes up, his eyes half close, then he waits patiently as you begin presenting bugs and water for him to eat and drink. He’s got a pretty good appetite, too! He has eaten up to 17 crickets and 8 kingworms in one sitting! That’s not even counting the 0.5 ounces (15 milliliters) of water he drinks. You’d think he’d be a big guy, but he only weighs 16.8 ounces (477 grams). Pretty light for someone who enjoys the all-you-can-eat buffet!

We don’t usually get very long term patient’s at the Zoo’s hospital, just every once in awhile. But when it does happen, it is nice to get to know them. We really enjoy their company and the change of pace they bring. And I must admit that I think they enjoy our company, too, or at least the waiting hand and foot service we provide. I know I would!

Yvette Kemp is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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8 Responses to “A Day with Big Daddy”

  1. Shirley Sykes says:

    Yvette, I fully agree: I wish I had his coverage too!!!

    Big Daddy is absolutely beautiful! What a rare treat to be able to care for him and feed him crickets and kingworms (how do they differ from the mealworms we so often see in the bird and small reptile exhibits?). Do you have any idea of how long he’ll be hospitalized? (I realize, though, he may never want to fully recover and be returned to the ” real world.” )

    When he is finally fully recovered, will he be on exhibit? I’d surely love to see him! A million (maybe 3or 4 million) thanks for all that you and the wonderful hospital staff do for your patients and, by extension, for all of us zoophiles.

    Yvette responds: The kingworms and crickets he gets are like all the others around the Zoo but we feed them cricket meal before feeding them to him (they are on cricket meal at least for three days prior to being fed to him).

  2. Bill says:

    Very cute article Yvette

  3. Amanda says:

    Does Big Daddy have to stay at the hospital for ever? What medical problem he has with his feet? Is he the only one of his kind at the zoo? He really looks beautiful and sure of himself!

  4. Marie says:

    Good Morning Yevette,

    I enjoy your blogs. What is the problem with Big Daddy’s feet? It must be severe for him to be a permanent patient in the hospital??? He is beautiful. I think that all chameleons and lizards like them, are very beautiful. Thank you for taking such good care of him. (17 crickets and 8 worms in the same setting?? Wow, that boy has a good appetite for such a small creature!!)

    Yvette responds: He has a foot infection and he’s just taken awhile to heal (humidity probably doesn’t help, but that’s the kind of weather he likes). Hopefully he’ll be able to go home soon.

  5. Mae in NJ says:

    Has anyone carefully observed Big Daddy at night? With all the TLC which he obviously enjoys, he may be reluctant to get well. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he nibbles at his foot when he thinks no one is looking. Keep it looking bad, keep the hand feeding coming, enjoy sitting on a sunny arm just a little longer.

    : )

  6. Maureen in Michigan says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard about ” Big Daddy” – am a pandholic & was just checking blogs – how intersting – too many of us are just interested in the ” large animals” – pandas, lions, polar bears. Then to find we have a whole staff involved in the care in of a chameleon with sore feet. No wonder the SDZ is the envy of all zoos – your staff is wonderful.

  7. Cheryl says:

    Mae # 5 – that is so funny! I can just see it – before long – words gotten out about the 5-star hotel & spa at the SDZ – and there’s line of ” injured” chameleons and other exotic amphibians limping up to the door for reservations. Very funny!

  8. Deb says:

    Do you get paid more when you have to touch a worm or cricket? Something seems terribly wrong when a critter named ” Big Daddy” receives better medical care than I do. Perhaps all Big Daddy needs is a Big Mommy.